A discussion on the Tani lineage Shukokai/Shito-ryu double hip recoil gyakuzuki
by Shihan Jason Armstrong, 7th dan
In 1948 Hanshi Chojiro Tani, 9th dan, opened the first “Shukokai” karate school in Kobe Japan, at the time Tani sensei named his style Tani-ha Shito-Ryu. Later it would become more broadly called shukokai karate in variety of derivatives (click here for lineage chart of Tani karate). Tani sensei was an open minded and innovative karate-ka and evolved his form of Shito-ryu via a careful analysis of the dynamics and principles found in all traditional karate-do coupled to comparisons with other sports and their biomechanics - such as hip rotation (golf, baseball etc.).
Traditional Shukokai tends to have a focus on the best way to deliver full weight strikes, arguably more so than the other Japanese karate styles, for better and worse (author commentary: “ for better or worse – as a focus on one key goal may limit time on other endeavours such as movement or bunkai”). The linearity and power of the style was well suited to the tournament scene of the era and such famous sports karate fighters as Kotaka (all Japan Champion in the early sixties) and Kimura sensei were examples of this. Below is a video of Kimura sensei impacting and training a hip action of shukokai (see also related article on Kimura sensei).
Something that resonated with myself having a lineage which is a hybrid of Mabuni Shito-ryu and Tani-ha derived Shito-ryu, was in an interview by sensei Iain Abernaithy with Shukokai 9th Dan Haruyoshi Yamada, in particular when Iain put the question to Yamada, "What are the main differences between Mabuni’s Shito-Ryu and Tani’s Shukokai?".
Yamada's answer was: "Tani Sensei was a high-school teacher and he therefore had a good understanding of physics. Tani Sensei was the first person to approach both Karate technique and body movement in a very scientific way. These innovations resulted in Tani Sensei placing a high emphasis on mental focus and scientific body movement. The combination of Tani’s knowledge of Karate, his knowledge of physics, and his understanding of how to communicate effectively meant that he was able to develop Shito-Ryu.
The acceleration and dynamic impact developed by Tani Sensei’s innovations was extremely impressive. Tani Sensei was very intelligent and knew that this modern and logical approach would give Shukokai a wide appeal. Tani Sensei was a great innovator and as a result Shukokai was less static and more dynamic than the Karate he originally learnt."
Photo 2: Tani Sensei performing kata (LHS), classic "semi" mawashi geri - somewhat a trait of the lineage (middle), and yonjugo-do (45 degree) standing kihon thrust yoko geri (also standard kihon for the lineage).
Video: Kimiura sensei of Shukokai in an interview and technique demomstrations in class.
The analysis of how to hit hard in shukukai and derived styles (e.g. Tani-ha & Renbukan as two examples) involves the practice of advanced ranks using a small but rapid double hip twist (recoil, shock, hip shock and other terms are used in the Tani derived styles to describe the action). Many claim the action is peculiar to shukokai karate, however the author of this article would argue the same types of actions have also been present in other styles for decades (relevant note: the author believes there is a great deal of value in this hip action for gyakuzuki and trained in & around 4 Tani derived dojo in the Kansai region of Japan with four 8th dans [Sotokawa, Iba, Tershita, Uetake]. All-in-all the author was part of that derived style of Tani Shito-ryu [Renbukan] for over 17 years - he stopped training with Renbukan in 2001). For example, Taira sensei of the Goju Jundokan dojo in Okinawa is shown in the video below discussing hip action, while Taira sensei's demo is not the hip/recoil action being discussed in this article, the primary author on his visits to the Jundokan has seen a quick/small double hip used for power and whip in that dojo as well as his time in mainland region of Kansai Japan.
It should be noted that some goju & "koryu" styles in the West the author has seen a double/triple hip which is a much slower and larger action than the one being discussed here – the debate on that difference will not be addressed in this article as the effect is different.
Furthermore one can also see a "Shukokai style" hip technique talked about in MMA (this group often calls it a “whipping punch”), as well as boxing (Mike Tyson was an example of someone who sometimes hit this way – even with a left hand uppercut that dropped professional boxers with a body shot).
Video: Taira sensei of the Goku Jundokan - as mentioned above.
In one approach to this technique the hips are squared in kamae to allow for the recoil action to begin (as opposed to starting the hips at 45 degrees. A 45 degree start kamae gives a single hip rotation but no recoil effect, but does have the advantage of a faster technique and minimal profile presentation to an opponent). One should also not presume this is the only hip action type used by Shukokai lineage practitioners.
Also contributing to a variety of dimensions in reverse punch is the lifting of the blade edge of the foot, and even lifting and dropping of the heel & body weight. These variants are in contrast to the complete “foot flat” approach of Shotokan. This article won’t dive into depth around this topic as there is as separate page dealing with this topic click here for article & associated BLOG… The above video featuring Kimura sensei shows a lifting and dropping heel (4min 20sec time point), additionally the primary author has been exposed to deliberate heel lift/drop actions in such sensei as Hanshi Sells (8th dan seito-shito-ryu) and Okinawan instructors. It should be noted that the topic of heel lifting in traditional kata and basics is typically something explored for those above 5th Dan.
The fast and small wind-up, or backward beginning movement promotes a number of factors that may better a punch. They include at least: relaxation for the start of the forward motion, recoil inertia and plyometric stretching of torso and shoulder area to maximize speed/power.
Usually the front hip is considered to be a hinge for the technique (it doesn’t come back which tends to throw some of the body weight in the wrong direction).
The interview by sensei Iain Abernaithy with Shukokai 9th Dan Haruyoshi Yamada, also touched on something I have seen in the Japanese dojos in which I trained. This was that indiviudalism at certain ranks was encouraged rather than a cookie cutter approach (which, in my reasonably significant expsoure to Shotokan through some "sister dojo" in our Network, is more how I see that style operate). This means that a high rank will do a technique quite differently (not just a little differently) than a lower rank. I have also observed the same rank based freedom in regards to evolution of technique/kata in visits to the Jundokan (again more so than my visits to JKA dojo in Japan). The dojo kun of Shukokai which is dicussed in our dojo kun article mentions this.
Yamada Sensei's comment re Tani (from the above cited Abernaithy interview):
"Tani Sensei also taught Karate for the individual. He did not say “you must do this” or “you must do that”, rather he would ask “how does your body feel?” We are all different and Tani Sensei understood that. He would listen to his students and help them to develop in the best way for them.
Tani Sensei used to emphasise the importance of going forwards. It is important never to retreat otherwise the opponent will be on top of you. The combinations he taught would always involve immediate and strong counter-attack. Also, everything that Tani Sensei taught was related. The basics, the combinations, the kata, and the kumite were all linked and were not taught as separate segments. Partner work was also very important at the dojo."
The below collage shows some of the university studies done with Tani and his lead student Kimura to investigate power in punching. An study well ahead of its time.
For a deeper look into the impact of Tani sensei on karate history, see:
& bunbu ryodo